Dueling student loan challenges could pave way for high court double header
President Joe Biden brought another emergency application to the Supreme Court on Friday, fighting to unpack lower court roadblocks that are standing in the way of his student loan forgiveness plan.
Coming only one day after the court agreed to hear full briefing in another challenge, Biden is asking the justices to block a ruling from a Texas judge who vacated the program last month. Biden’s application asks the high court to stay the lower court ruling, but U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar suggests the justices could also hear this challenge alongside the case from Republican-led states.
Two student loan borrowers — Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor — are challenging Biden’s plan because they fail to meet the qualifications to benefit from it. Brown is ineligible because she took out private loans and Biden’s plan forgives only federal loans. Taylor does not qualify for the greatest possible amount of relief that is only open to borrowers who were given loans related to their income qualifications.
Brown and Taylor claim they were not given the opportunity to comment on the program. If the government had allowed a notice and comment period, the borrowers claim they would have urged the education secretary to open up more opportunities for relief.
A district court denied Brown and Taylor's procedural claims because the authority Biden used to forgive student loan debt — the Higher Education and Opportunities Act — exempts the secretary from notices and comment procedures. But the judge held that this use of the Heroes Act caused Brown and Taylor injury and thus exceeded the secretary’s authority — a claim the borrowers had not made.
Prelogar notes that this ruling caused borrowers across the country to lose relief offered in the president’s plan, and it cost Taylor $10,000 that would have been offered if the plan were to go into effect.
The Fifth Circuit declined a stay pending appeal.
Arguing that the district court’s ruling should be reversed, Prelogar urges the justices to offer the administration relief in this case.
“The district court profoundly erred by raising and deciding a claim that respondents did not assert and could not have asserted consistent with Article III,” Prelogar wrote in Biden’s application. “And the Secretary’s plan in any event falls squarely within the plain text of his statutory authority. Indeed, the entire purpose of the HEROES Act is to authorize the Secretary to grant student-loan-related relief to at-risk borrowers because of a national emergency — precisely what the Secretary did here.”
While Prelogar says the high court shouldn’t need any additional briefing to offer relief in this case, she invites the justices to add this challenge to its docket as well.
“Here, the government submits that the district court’s extraordinary departure from principles of party presentation and Article III warrants an immediate stay, without the need for further briefing,” Prelogar wrote. “If, however, the Court is not prepared to grant that relief now, it may wish to defer a decision on the application pending oral argument, treat the application as a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment, and grant certiorari so that this case can be heard along with Nebraska.”
Even if the court granted Biden relief on this application, Biden would still be blocked from acting on his debt relief program until the court rules on a challenge brought to GOP-led states.
It is not clear when the court could respond to the government’s application. The challenge to Biden’s student debt relief plan from six Republican-led states will be heard by the court in February. Biden has extended a pause on student loan payments while the legal battle proceeds.